Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Highlighting Page 83

I've used Sarah Parsons' A Clearing Season as the center of my Lent study. As I've soaked in these reflections for Lent, the beginnings of a rainbow has been created. Pink denotes last year's highlights, swaths of blue (a bit dark for a highlight color) mark the phrases I found particularly meaningful this year. It's quite possible that if I use Ms. Parsons book a third time, every line will be bathed in neon ink!

Today I finished up the chapter on consecration and holiness. Highlighter in hand, I surprised myself at how much blue page 83 was getting. This was a page on letting go and trust. This is the hard stuff for me. You know, "Jesus take the wheel" kinda stuff. Oh, page 83... every word so rich in truth. Hopefully with Sarah Parsons' blessing, I'll quote what I highlighted:

"Thy will be done...the most revolutionary words we will ever say."

"The prospect of relinquishing our lives to God's will can be terrifying, as it may have been at first for Jesus on that night of prayer in the garden. But this fear comprises part of a holy moment; it is endured and transcended so that God's will may be done."

"When we let go...we agree to take a secondary role in our life's project, allowing ourselves to be come servants of our growth rather than its masters."

"Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac...this story is not a lesson in how to treat a son; rather it is a lesson in ultimate trust. It teaches us to put God's will before all else, even above our most powerful instincts and deepest loves, even above love like that of an aging father for his son. Abraham's willingness to let go of his greatest earthly joy demonstrated the extent of his submission to God's will."

"We transcend fear by letting go, by saying, 'Thy will be done.' and trusting that God's will is good."

In a Lenten season marked by the desire to deepen my faith, to relinquish control, and to have a deeper understanding of God's power - I'd say page 83 nailed it. I came into Lent with a heavy heart because of the rules, perimeters, and expectations I had placed on what and how my Lent should be. I will probably ALWAYS struggle with control. Wanting control, desiring to be "in the know" is a part of who I am and how God created me. But I'm learning day after day that a part of why God gave me a desire for control was so that I had something to offer Him. There are days when I am weak, worn out, overwhelmed, and feeling pretty inadequate. God says, "Great. just give me the control you're so desperately grasping know, the stuff that is slipping through your fingertips anyway. The stuff that has you in knots, the circumstances you can't even control no matter what you know...give it to Me."

And when I do, I am freed.

Sometimes the freedom is forever when I let go. God gave us a memorable metaphor at Women's Retreat a few weeks ago. I won't ever forget the beauty of watching the sky lanterns take flight. When it was time to release each one, there was a gentle tug, and then the lantern lifted up quickly and effortlessly. As they rose in the night sky with speed and light, we stood there on the sand, looking up in awe, knowing we couldn't of held on to the burning balloons even if we'd wanted to; not without getting burned. Once out of our hands, there wasn't a way to retrieve them. They were gone, because they were doing that they were made to go, go straight to heaven.

Then there are the things I try to and want to control day after day: my relationships, my kid's relationships, volunteers, schedules, my 14-year-old dog's arthritis pain, laundry, the weather (and my grumpy response to another rainy day), ETC. Deep sigh, so much et cetera. And perhaps when I look at God's grace, here's where the Holy Spirit's power is deeply rooted. Every day the Spirit mercifully allows me to say, "Here, take it. It's yours - again."

The story of Abraham and Isaac still scares me. With all my talk about trust, faith, and God's goodness, I still don't want to let go of my greatest earthy joys. Does anyone? I don't care how righteous you are, saying, "sure God take my kid" is an absolutely horrific thought. I've said countless times that I can't even imagine being willing to lose my 10-month-old puppy Bella. This is simply a sacrifice I don't know how I could choose to endure, let alone an actual human - I gave birth to it, raised it, and loved it child.

What I have come to recognize, what this clearing season has done in me, is to accept that my peace, my joy, doesn't always come from becoming a person who dislikes control. But rather, each day I wake up with more certainty that God is good, and I'm willing to place my offerings in the hands of my Lord.

So here I stand (or sit in bed) with two offerings before God: my control and my fear. Yes, yes, I'll give Him my love, devotion, acts of service too - the pretty stuff. But for tonight I want to remember that it's the ugly stuff (big and small) that God is also pleased with as an offering. Thy will be done.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Trusting Truth

In life we often say that something is untrue when it doesn't make sense. A child tells a story and we look at them with a sideways grin and say, "Well honey, that doesn't make any sense. Please tell Mommy the truth."

In our world when something is honest, right, shows integrity, or is trustworthy - the story, facts, details, and ideas usually fit together in a moral, scientific, or reasonable way. This is the kind of truth we can understand. For example: If the cookie jar is empty, it makes sense that little Bobby stole the last of the goodies when his parents weren't looking. It makes less sense (or seems untrue) to say that the dog jumped up on the counter, learned how to take the lid off the jar, devoured the last cookie, put the lid back on, and jumped back down without anyone seeing it. The doggie excuse seems even more unlikely when Bobby has had a history of snitching from the cookie jar.

As I ponder the idea of truth-telling, I'm re-reading the entire Bible this year. Last year I read it from the NIV Chronological Bible, this year I'm reading straight through Eugene Peterson's "The Message." My hope was that by reading a modern paraphrase of Scripture, it would make more sense. Fascinating stuff the Bible. And also quite unbelievable. I've come to the conclusion that no matter the translation, the Bible doesn't make much sense. God asks people to do ridiculous things. God's people act in grotesque ways (even when witnessing and experiencing God's miracles for themselves). Miracles, yep, those are pretty unbelievable too. I often find myself wondering why I chose Christianity as my religion. So much of the Bible and it's stories seem silly. As a follower you have to decide what is real and what is metaphorical, what is supposed to apply to ancient culture and what is relevant for today. You have to know history and context. It helps if you know Greek and Hebrew. You can go a bazillion different ways when deciding on "correct theology." To read the Bible is to find yourself tromping around Jericho for seven day blowing a horn, screaming at the top of your lungs, and watching a city wall crumble before your eyes. ( I just finished Joshua last night.) It means you believe God loves all people, but that at times He asks a chosen few to wipe out entire nations. Believing the Bible is hard, messy, frustrating work. Belief sometimes comes at a cost. The cost of understanding. There are many things about God I simply don't understand. I vacillate between wanting this Book to make sense and feeling at peace that God's story is so complex.

So silly as I am, I'm a Christian. I try to follow Christ. I choose to believe that Jesus was the son of God. I choose to believe that God does love and value all people. I choose to trust that God tells the truth even when the truth is incomprehensible.

Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. 
Psalm 25:5

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Untitled Post

Apparently Blogger doesn't let me use a strikethrough in my title. So the real title of my post is:

What I Have Want To Do

Relaxing and energizing well describe my Lenten season so far. I almost find that hard to believe when looking back at what I wrote for my first "individual exercise" from the book study A Clearing Season.

Here's my "wilderness" from week 1:
I come into every situation in my life with an agenda. I don’t just show up and wonder, “what will happen.” I have an idea, a plan, a purpose for the event, the meeting, the day, the relationship, the study. Uggggh. It’s those expectations that lead me to discouragement and frustration. Others don’t “play my game,” their responses don’t match what I have already figured out should happen. I feel trapped by my expectations and then doubly trapped when others/circumstances don’t fit my mold. I feel like in the past few years I’ve actually gotten better at releasing control in some ways (or at least realized to a greater degree my lack of it in some situations). I truly believe responsibility is overrated because it is so draining. I wouldn’t blame God for wanting to be “hands off” for a while…it must be exhausting work trying to coordinate a universe. Perhaps His power lays in the fact that He never stops. Never stops. Even on the Sabbath God heals, God redeems, God loves, and God is present and active. His rest looks very different than ours.

How do I step into Lent without an agenda? How do I not decide weeks ahead of time what this season is going to be about? I feel out of control, overwhelmed, and/or blocked by my desire to control and to see the finish line before the race has even begun to be run. This is my chaos. Even typing that feels scary. I don’t want to come into anything unprepared. And yet, even when I plan, I organize, I present.... I forget, I mess up, I mumble, I don’t do what I’ve prepared to do. It doesn’t look/feel like what I’ve dreamed or hoped. I stand back and like Beth Moore, say, “What was that?” It aches because I want to be good. I want to serve well, to make a difference in my life and in the lives of others. Uggh, the ugly “I” again.

I wonder if the desire to do well is the desire of the Holy Spirit to work through me, to use the gifts I have, or if it’s about pride. Am I fooling myself? Am I just grasping for attention and praise. Am I a praise junky? Do I still feel, in the core of my being, so lousy about who I am that my attempt at work, relationships, events, is really just about trying to create a “better” me not a window to God? Can it be both? Do I have to deem my self selfish or sacrificial? Can I be both? God, how do I work more out of a desire to sacrifice, submit, and serve out of love for You, not trying to gain love for myself?  Do I need to see myself more as a sinner or as a beloved child of God? Which view releases this desire to predict and protect outcomes?

I say I don’t want to “do” Lent, but in my mind, I’ve already done it…and it’s just started. I don’t want to flog myself for this…I know guilt is a lousy long-term motivator/solution. But it makes me crazy that I don’t release myself enough/I’m not open enough to let God take me ANYWHERE and do ANYTHING that HE wants to do with me in this wilderness. Talk about needing a clearing season. I need to clear out me to make room for God. I need to admit that truly doing that would mean that I have no idea what’s going to happen or be the focus of the next 6 weeks. 

So now fast-forward and it's week 4 of the study. What emerged out of that initial frustration was a desire to run and to blog as my Lenten practices. After confessing my need for control (even in the processes that are supposed to be God-led) I felt a tremendous freedom. God answered my request to release this season to Him, and so far it's been incredibly rejuvenating to sit down and blog when God's put something on my heart to write about - aka: not daily because I have to, it's Lent for goodness sake.  I've been on some runs, but then ya know, I fell. So running was out for a week. I tried running again and it was painful. I've been a bit irritated by the set backs I'm experiencing in training for the 1/2 marathon this summer, but overall I've had a sense of contentment (even laughter) at how out of control I've had to be with my running regimen. Again, God is showing me his redeeming love. I don't believe He wanted me to hurt my rib, strain my chest muscles, and scrape up my hand and knees - but I do choose to believe that God has taken that situation and used it to teach me that I can't predict and protect outcomes. I really truly cannot "do" Lent. God does. Hallelujah! 

God's helped me to shift my focus, release control, give me awesome options for Lent, and has faithfully shown his command. Feeling very grateful for the space to write about God's goodness this clearing season.